Barlovento is an area in Venezuela where thousands of stolen Africans were enslaved and subjected to imprisonment—they were forced to labor in places called cocoa and sugar cane plantations.
Among these thousands of kidnapped Africans were men, women, boys, and girls captured in the former African region of Kongo (today Angola, Congo Brazzaville and Congo Kinshasa).
“In the face of an inhuman slavery,” says Tata Tomas Pacheco, “thousands of the enslaved rose up physically and spiritually to create liberated spaces and live in freedom. The Cumbes (or, free territories) were like villages built far away from the colonial authorities, where self-liberated Africans were able to rebuild their social, family, and spiritual life.
“It was not easy,” adds Tata from his Nzo Mfumbi (House of the Spirits), “the enslavers and colonialists had better weapons, materials for torture, dogs, and an army ready to try to subdue and kill us if we resisted. But, even so, they could not defeat us—not even during the colonial slave system.”
When we stand outside, Tata Tomas’ body blends in with the large roots of the sacred Ceiba tree. With a cigar in his mouth, he breathes in the air from his sacred forest and declares: “Our ancestors won their freedom before [Venezuela won] independence from a Spanish colonialism led by whites who thought they knew how to control our warrior spirits.”
Our ability, says Tata Tomas, to continue fighting up until this day is because of our spiritual strength.
When he was young, Tata Tomas Pacheco began receiving spiritual messages in his dreams: he could predict tragedies as well as “good things.” He started, in the 1980s, to broaden his understanding of Kongo spirituality by contacting the Cuban-oriented Regla de Palo Mayombe. “I received my initiation there and began to deepen my studies and at the same time I began to compare the spiritual practices that we did in Barlovento with the Bakongo practices, where the ceibas, the medicinal plants and the rivers abound. In short, I started understanding that our Kongo maroon ancestors had left a deep imprint. After I went to do a consultation for a goddaughter in Mexico, I discovered that in that brother country, the Kongos had also rebelled—there, they were led by Yanga. So, I also opened a Nzo—a house to worship Kongo ancestry—in Mexico.”
Tata Tomas has now been in Mexico for five years working with 25 godchildren—individuals he has carefully selected because they have demonstrated a connection to the Bakongo tradition.
Reflecting on today’s world crisis of a pandemic, a geo-political war between Russia and Ukraine (which has enveloped Europe and the United States), the economic crisis and depression, Tata Tomas says we must have faith that humanity will either learn to live in harmony or we will disappear. We cannot continue to make the earth, nature, and water sick…
We may be living in a difficult period of time, but Tata Tomas notes that “without blood, a new world cannot be born.”